Apex City (which is usually just called “Apex”) is a fictional town in the Midwestern United States that represents how the middle of the country differs from the coasts. As the hometown of Undine Spragg and many other characters in the novel, it ironically doesn’t represent the “apex” of their social climbing but in fact is only the first rung of the ladder. Mr. Spragg is one of the richest men in Apex, but after moving to New York City, he finds that his wealth doesn’t take him nearly as far as it did in the Midwest. Many characters, such as Undine and Elmer Moffatt, try to shed their connections to Apex, using their move to New York as an opportunity for rebirth, highlighting the Midwest’s supposed undesirability.
Undine, however, sometimes finds that New York doesn’t live up to its grand reputation and that the Fifth Avenue elites of the big city are not as far above their counterparts in Apex as they might like to think. Apex represents a smaller, more insular way of living than the cosmopolitan New York, although the novel constantly returns to the question of whether the upper-class residents of New York are really as worldly and sophisticated as they’d like to believe they are.
Apex Quotes in The Custom of the Country
“Undine Spragg—how can you?” her mother wailed, raising a prematurely-wrinkled hand heavy with rings to defend the note which a languid “bell-boy” had just brought in.
But her defence was as feeble as her protest, and she continued to smile on her visitor while Miss Spragg, with a turn of her quick young fingers, possessed herself of the missive and withdrew to the window to read it.
“I guess it’s meant for me,” she merely threw over her shoulder at her mother.
The dinner too was disappointing. Undine was too young to take note of culinary details, but she had expected to view the company through a bower of orchids and eat pretty-coloured entrees in ruffled papers. Instead, there was only a low centre-dish of ferns, and plain roasted and broiled meat that one could recognize—as if they’d been dyspeptics on a diet! With all the hints in the Sunday papers, she thought it dull of Mrs. Fairford not to have picked up something newer; and as the evening progressed she began to suspect that it wasn’t a real “dinner party,” and that they had just asked her in to share what they had when they were alone.
Moffatt’s social gifts were hardly of a kind to please the two ladies: he would have shone more brightly in Peter Van Degen’s set than in his wife’s. But neither Clare nor Mrs. Fairford had expected a man of conventional cut, and Moffatt’s loud easiness was obviously less disturbing to them than to their hostess. Undine felt only his crudeness, and the tacit criticism passed on it by the mere presence of such men as her husband and Bowen; but Mrs. Fairford seemed to enjoy provoking him to fresh excesses of slang and hyperbole.
“If you’d only had the sense to come straight to me, Undine Spragg!
There isn’t a tip I couldn’t have given you—not one!”
It was of no consequence that the details and the technicalities escaped her: she knew their meaningless syllables stood for success, and what that meant was as clear as day to her. Every Wall Street term had its equivalent in the language of Fifth Avenue, and while he talked of building up railways she was building up palaces, and picturing all the multiple lives he would lead in them. To have things had always seemed to her the first essential of existence, and as she listened to him the vision of the things he could have unrolled itself before her like the long triumph of an Asiatic conqueror.